The Journey to the West Questions and Answers
by Wu Chengen

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Who is the hero or the protagonist in The Journey to the West: Monkey, Guanyin, Taizong, or Tripitaka? How can you evidence your decision?

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Of the four main protagonists in The Journey to the West, only two might qualify as true “heroes” in the mythic sense. Tripitaka, or Xuanzang, is the monk who sets off to find the sutras in India and bring them back to China. He is the primary protagonist in the story, and his religious observance is the impetus behind the entire journey. The other possible hero is Sun Wukong or the Monkey King—but there is some evidence that might stand in the way of his being the central hero.

Sun Wukong is the preeminent hero of the story, and he is the title character. The story is known as The Monkey King in many of its retellings, and the monkey is a prominent face for the story. Sun Wukong is not a typical hero when measured against the archetype—instead, he is more of a trickster hero. While Sun Wukong is necessary for the adventure to succeed, as he is the most powerful of the four main characters, he also spends a lot of the adventure trying to get out of it. It is a troubling sign that the Sun Wukong wants to get out of the adventure so badly. He is banished from the group at one point and even has to have a special crown put on his head to motivate him. While he is heroic in the story, especially in the way he fights, he doesn’t seem to be the most heroic of the four characters.

The true hero of the story is Tripitaka. In the original story, he is referred to as Xuanzang, a monk who volunteers to travel from China to India to collect the sacred sutras and bring them back. The sutras are a part of the Hindu and Buddhist religions that are the instructions for how to live life the correct way. Tripitaka closely follows Campbell's hero's journey, and he goes on the adventure of his own free will. The undertaking is significant for the entire country of China, and Xuanzang's sacrifice and courage are commendable as elements of his hero story. It is clear that of all the characters, he is the most moral and righteous.

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